Here are a list of examples I collected from Hacker News that claim to run a successful one-person online business. You could find the original threads at the end of this post.
I run a popular Quiz website. I make around $6,000 per month from Google adsense. I work between 2-3 hours a week usually posting quiz links on my Pinterest page. My only expense is hosting which is around $20 per month (Digital Ocean). I have never advertised my website and it gets all the traffic from Pinterest Organically. Compare to my salary, I’m an IT Administrator in my day job and make $400 per month. I live in Ethiopia 🙂 I thought this inspires my fellow HN. Good day.
- How do you manage to kickstart something like this? You mentioned you get your traffic organically via Pinterest, but there had to be something you did initially that set off that growth.
My website started five years ago, It didn’t get any traffic the first three years before one of my quiz went viral. Now I have around 70k followers on Pinterest.
- This is important. I have seen this a lot. Persistence. Many people keep pushing,keep pushing even if there is no positive feedback loop for a long time. After a while, they beat time. Kudos.
I develop and sell Cursive (https://cursive-ide.com), which has paid my bills nicely for a couple of years now. Currently I make more than I made in my last job at Google. I never thought I’d be able to make a living selling developer tools, much less into a niche market, but I’m constantly amazed by how well Cursive does.
The work is a mix of fun and boring slog, like most jobs I guess. A lot of my time is spent on support, both technical and sales, so when I work less I actually end up getting more frustrated because a higher percentage of the work is not as fun as writing new features. I’ve also had a bad year of having to work around IntelliJ bugs, but normally I like the actual development work a lot. I have friendly enthusiastic users who constantly make my day. It’s a pretty sweet gig, and being able to decide how I spend my time, and which bits of my time I spend working, is priceless.
I got started during a sabbatical from my last job, just building something that I wanted myself. It turns out that lots of other people wanted it too.
I own Product Pix (https://www.proproductpix.org). It removes the background from product photos, with the intended audience being mostly people who sell stuff online and need to set their background against a white background.
It makes $1300/month right now, up from $0 6 months ago. Living in the Bay Area, that would put me well below the poverty line if it were my sole source of income, so I’m not gonna call it “successful” just yet.
How I got started: I do machine learning, and I methodically searched for places where people buy a service transactionally on platforms like Fiverr and that I think can be automated away (or greatly automated with human reviewers in the loop) with state of the art machine learning models. There are hundreds or thousands of such opportunities that individuals can solve on their own.
Another tip I wish someone had told me is, build a pricing page from day one. The temptation to get some signal you’re useful to people will drive you to offer stuff for free, but that will end up getting you a lot of unwanted attention from people who will never ever pay.
Instagram Posting Service
My business is in my bio, don’t want to link it here. Pays about the same as my previous job at Microsoft did, but with a lot less involvement — I haven’t touched the main code in about a year now. I probably spend about two or three hours a week on customer support, that’s it, really. No marketing spend, all word-of-mouth and Google.
The idea came about when I wanted to post to Instagram, but the API didn’t allow it. So I spent about a week trying to automate the process using a phone, with screenshot OCR and a state machine. After a lot of messing around with it, I had a working prototype. Made a website, added a $5/month Stripe plan to see if people were willing to pay for it, sent it to a few friends, posted it on Twitter, and eventually, people signed up and tried it out. It worked, then it didn’t work, then I fixed it, then it worked again, this went on and on for a few weeks until it became quite useable.
About two months in, local offices of Toyota and Samsung signed up, and they loved it, money wasn’t an issue. That was the moment I realized it may be worth doing it properly.
It grew organically, and I bought lots and lots of Android phones, which are simple workers getting jobs off a queue, and host them in two locations roughly. Phones last for about two years, then I buy new ones (<$100 a phone). Each phone pays for itself in less than a month, server costs are less than $200 a month.
Facebook tried to sue me after I filed for a trademark, we figured it out (I rebranded). Been going steady ever since, but I consider it to be shut down by yet another Instagram move sooner or later. But I said that after 3 weeks of running it, and it’s been almost five years I think.
I made it a point to not use any private Instagram APIs, like all my competitors did — instead, I don’t emulate the Instagram app, I emulate the person tapping the phone, and use only the official app for it. I think that let me survive this long.
I run https://updown.io since 2012, a website monitoring service I created. I’m working about 5-10 hours per week on it. It makes about $6,000 per month and is still growing linearly. I also keep a full-time job alongside for now as an engineering manager. The key for me is to take time, make something useful, delight your clients, and don’t try to become uber or airbnb.
Sports App Business
I am mainly in sports apps. I think it is still possible to have succes. It requires a lot of patience. Don’t focus on the revenue part. And don’t try to build a new hype. Very slim chance you build the next angry birds. Instead try to build a product that is based on an already successful specific category/ product. Very important is that you understand your customer and genuinely try to make a product that is better than the competition. You should love your own product. The good thing is that bigger companies tend to destroy their own product with too many ads, notifications, non relevant features etc. Furthermore I believe it’s important that your product contents can be automated without too much manual work. After all you are the only person with only so much time. I know a guy who created a fitness diet app. He cooked and photographed more than a thousand meals. He wrote many articles. In the end he gave up. It took him 80 hours per week to maintain and update all the content. His app was making maybe 100 a month. I know another guy who created a successful formula 1 live app. He is using paid data feeds and scrapes a lot of additional data. Everything automated. Spends like 10 hours a week maintaining things. Makes about 100k a month. Similar story for a guy who created a popular weather app. In essence the only thing what they do is aggregation of data and present it in a relatively simple app. Also don’t spend too much time on analytics, seo and other optimizations. It may take 2 years before you get traction anyway. First the product then after (if it’s worth) the optimization. One concrete product where I think you can still have success is a baby monitor with 2 phones. Couple of good apps only. All premium priced. Not too difficult technically. I don’t have time for it, so go for it 🙂
I run https://pageflows.com and have been living off it full time for a little over a year.
The business makes a bit more than what I was earning a few years ago as a junior developer in London, so it’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s enough.
It’s a fairly boring business to run and not as predictable or sexy as some sort of micro saas, but it’s I’m happy with how things have been so far. Happy to answer any questions you have.
Most customers are indeed businesses. Great shout on some sort of team/business plan – it’s on my to-do list!
I’ve commended to a response below with the business model, but yeah I’ve just started trialling a freemium model yesterday so need to update the rest of the site with clearer pricing plans etc.
Until yesterday there was no freemium access, it was just paid up-front to access all the content. $39 per quarter or $99 per year.
Your use case is kinda where the idea came from, most product people do something similar. The hard part is adding enough relevant content on Page Flows for enough people!
Seven years ago I solo-started an automatic time tracker for programmers called WakaTime  and launched here on HN . Partly from listening to developers too much, I waited way too long (almost a year) before adding a paid plan, but now it generates more MRR than an SF developer salary not including stock options. Technically I make more from RSUs and stock from past startups as a regular employee, but if I wasn’t lucky with those then it would be my highest income stream.
For anyone thinking it’s egregiously difficult to start a solo-project: You’re right, but if you stick with it your persistence will pay off. For solo-products, I think grit is the deciding factor between success and failure.
There were several stages of MVP. First usable version took a month and half to build and public launch with 2 IDEs supported was 2 and half months after starting to build.
May 3 2013 – Started development Flask website & Vim plugin (https://wakatime.com/blog/1-why-i-built-wakatime)
June 25 2013 – Finished Vim plugin and Website (https://github.com/wakatime/vim-wakatime/commit/4346a055e301…)
July 1 2013 – Started Sublime plugin (https://github.com/wakatime/sublime-wakatime/commit/b7fe36f8…)
July 15 2013 – Finished Sublime plugin and public launch (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6046227)
Unfortunately I don’t have WakaTime data until after finishing the Vim plugin, but everything after that I can see how long the actual coding took by dogfooding.
I have a one-person lifestyle business. I like it primarily because it gives me the flexibility to live anywhere in the world. I hated my old desk job and the idea of 2 weeks vacation every year.
I run a SaaS product that integrates with ERPs. I pretend to my customers that I have a team (so much so that I have multiple email addresses to people that don’t exist that actually just forward to me). One of our customers thinks they’re paying for a team of 6, but it’s actually just me.
My monthly billings last month was 73k USD. I am a tax resident of a tax haven although I do live 3-6 months at a time in a different country.
The only advice I’d give anyone looking to build a lifestyle business is to keep your ambitions and by extension- product feature set in check. I know several other people who operate like me, and the common thread is we have businesses that can easily take VC funds, hire, and expand. But for lifestyle priorities, we chose not to.
A lot of people I’ve met (particularly in Chiang Mai, Thailand) copy popular, common, and easy online businesses such as drop shipping, social media XYZ, or coding. Unless you live in a really low cost area, it’s not a good life. The key is have a very specific niche that can be scaled upwards if you want, but you always have the option not to. Those the ideas and businesses that seems to provide the ideal balance in lifestyle.
EDIT: The product came about at my last job where I built it to make my own job easier. Essentially it did 95% of what job which at the time enabled me to be the “best performer” while not actually working that hard.
I develop Flowx [https://www.flowx.io], an Android weather app. It makes around $2,500 USD/month with about $500/month in costs excluding my time. It covers about 60% of my total costs including my time which is 40+ hours a week. I cover my remaining costs through contract work. This might not seem like a success but the business allowed us to move to the Rarotonga, Cook Islands from Auckland, New Zealand. Lifestyle-wise and building-a-business-wise, I think it’s a success.
Just an added note. I started Flowx as a side-project in 2012. In 2016, we moved to Rarotonga and we decided then to try to grow it into a business. It was making ~$100/month at that stage. Since then, it has grown it to $2500/month through added pro features and a better subscription prices.
I sell freemium software that blocks distractions on your computer so that you can focus on doing work. Unlike my competitors, it’s a one-time payment business model.
The idea for my product first came to me when a friend in university had trouble staying focused on writing papers. He was constantly playing World of Warcraft and needed a way to temporarily block himself from playing the game. So I quickly made a little VB.NET app and service that would watch for the game executable and kill the process if it starts. It did the job well enough and he ended up graduating 🙂
At that point, some other students approached me and asked for my little app to help them study. That’s when, half-way through university (2010), I made a website for my app and had it available for free. I continued to maintain it and over 4 years, added more features including: blocking websites, adding breaks, scheduling, and passwords.
In 2014, I split the product into a free and paid tier. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I was spending a lot of time on it by this point and customer support was also starting to take a serious hit on my personal time. In about two years (2016), I was making more money from the paid product than my well paying government day job. So, I decided to quit my job and work on my business full time.
Although I felt it was risky, the alternative was passing up an opportunity many people dreamed of having. I never planned to start a business in the first place and I kind of felt/still feel imposter syndrome. For now, I’m just enjoying my new found freedom and continue to be thankful for my new job. I’m going to keep it a lifestyle business for now, but I wouldn’t be opposed to selling it as my exit plan.
I’ve spent (effectively) $0 in advertising since developing it and I’d say my customers come from organic search, external links, and word-of-mouth.
I run a headless browser service called browserless.io. Got started due to lack of a comparable service, and all others seemed more geared for testing.
It’s been around two years now, and makes more than any prior engineering job I’ve ever had. You do have a lot of other stresses you might not otherwise have, but you’ll also work a lot less than at a traditional job!
I’m working on a few interviews for some sites, which go more into the details, and will post here when they’re done.
EDIT: feel free to comment here on anything or email me at joel at browserless dot io
I created a SaaS website builder for a small niche market. I’ve been running it for about 8 years. I gross a bit over $14,000 per month with about $500 in expenses for servers and third-party APIs. I work 1-2 hours per week answering customer support emails. Basically, I automated away my old job as a web designer 🙂
The smartest decision I made was targeting a small niche market that larger businesses wouldn’t bother with. I often get kind emails from customers thanking me for helping their industry. I kept things simple, didn’t add features unless I really believed customers needed them, and didn’t try to generalize the solution. I think those are the main reasons why the product worked.
By far the hardest part was/is marketing. I’m still bad at it. I’ve tried may things. Most failed or were too hard to sustain. Some succeeded, like Facebook ads, but those successes were often hard to recreate. At this point it’s mostly word of mouth.
Working alone can be psychologically challenging. When I have a problem, there’s no one to help because no one else knows how the platform works. With no one to bounce ideas off of, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut going round and round the same set of possible solutions. And I really have to monitor myself to ensure that I don’t get too isolated. This was an issue in the early years, but now I have a routine that gets me up and out and into the world every day. I would strongly advise anyone considering the solo route to carefully consider the social and mental health aspects of working alone.
I feel very grateful to my former self for doing the hard work that pays my bills today. And I’m tremendously grateful for open source tools and resources like Stack Overflow without which I would never have made it this far alone.
I ran a Shopify site selling meme shirts for 3 years.
You might recognize classics such as “Legalize 4Loko 2020” and “BREAD” as featured in Elle magazine.
All on-demand printing. Order goes through Shopify’s API to the supply center, order gets fulfilled, shipped. No inventory. Kinda pricey, but zero maintenance. Set and forget.
Find the most extremely dank and niche memes possible so you hit the little nugget inside of someone’s brain that makes them want to spend $15-30 on a t-shirt.
A good print would net me somewhere like 300 orders a month. A sweatshirt could go for $50-60. You have options.
ML golf predict
I made https://www.golfforecast.co.uk – an ML algorithm to predict golf.
After 5 years it’s making enough from subscriptions for me to live off (3K gbp/mo). The algorithm is always a work in progress but it’s seeing consistent returns now so I’m making money from that too 🙂 plus it makes golf a lot more entertaining.
I started https://ipinfo.io as a side project, and then ran it fulltime as a one-person SaaS app for over a year. We’re now a team of 8, profitable, and growing quickly. We’re still 100% bootstrapped, and I have zero plans to raise any outside funding.
We started with a simple IP geolocation API, which now handles over 20 billion API requests per month. We’ve added new data to that service, such as IP type classification (hosting, isp, or business, and soon education too), IP to company, and carrier detection. And we’ve also launched some other products, like hosted domain API (all domains hosted on an IP, sometimes called reverse IP), IP ranges belonging to an organization, and an ASN API. We’ve got a lot in the pipeline too, including some domain related offerings (see https://host.io for an early preview).
So it’s definitely possible 🙂 What sort of SaaS product are you thinking of launching? Would be happy to chat! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m working on NanaGram (https://nanagram.co) solo and bootstrapped. Although I’m not making a full-time income yet, it’s generating a profit. It’s mostly automated.
NanaGram is the 3rd greatest generator of happiness and fulfillment in my life (after my wife and my dog). I get a constant stream of good vibes from customers, most recently voicemails from grandmothers! (https://nanagram.co/blog/feedback-by-vm)
Good luck 🙂
I run https://PhantomJsCloud.com
I started it as a free MVP about 2 years ago while in Thailand, and given that I was attracting a slow but steady stream of users I decided to build out a commercial v1 from it.
The freemium SaaS went live in March and it’s growing monthly. If I still lived in Thailand I would consider it very successful, but I am in the Seattle area now so it’s ramen profitable.
The biggest surprise I got was how slow organic growth takes. Every month I gain more users + MRR but discovery seems to be the biggest problem. I tried Google Adwords in June but Google decided to cost me upwards of $5/click for basic keyword targeting so gave that up. I tried Adwords again in November and now google thinks I’m more relevant, so I pay starting at $0.20/click for the same keywords that cost $5/click 6 months previous. I am currently doing experiments to see if the acquisition cost justifies that spend.
From a effort perspective, the SaaS api+backend itself was about 50% of the effort. The subscription service + user dashboard was another 50%.
From a skills perspective, I think doing a SaaS as a solo founder is only practical if you have extremely broad skillsets: Business management, UX, full-stack webdev, devops, sales, marketing, support. Thankfully I have some experience in all those (except sales) so I was able to either do or fake everything required. If you don’t have all those skills, you are going to be increasingly reliant on luck, which isn’t a winning strategy.
I solicit users to email whenever they have a question/comment/issue and reply to everything. Overall I think I have provided email support to aprox 50% of my paying customers, and maybe half of the support was provided before they decided to pay, so it is very important 🙂
it’s actually a really great way to understand your customer’s needs, and your products actual (in the eyes of the user) deficiencies. I also use uservoice to help the highly-desired features/requests to “bubble up” but if a customer asks for something and it’s an easy enhancement I go ahead and implement it. Likewise if the same problem is annoying a bunch of people, I need to either document a workaround or make it easier.
Yes, “inbound marketing” (a blog) is probably the biggest accelerator to growth I can (and should) do. I’m holding off for now though, as I need to make the product more friendly to business users first. Right now PhantomJsCloud is focused on developers, so I need to make some non-dev friendly tooling first. That’s my excuse at least.
Regarding StackOverflow, yes, that’s actually how I validated the free MVP (answering SO questions and if my product might be beneficial, providing a link to my product) but generally those traffic sources don’t seem to scale very well past MVP validation. I haven’t tried Quora though, I will add that to my todo list 🙂
I’m running https://SignalBox.ai alone, I wrote all of the software and am working on partnering and sales right now.
Previously I have 2 other startups, one was media monitoring and one was forex.
The media monitoring is B2B only. The forex trading is automated and run from my home research cluster.
Both are generating enough revenue to live off (media monitoring 120k forex, 60-80k)
I guess they fit the definition of solo founder and online, but they have no public facing websites (except SignalBox)
EDIT: I also run a slack group for Solo Founders, If you would like an invite, please email me
- Sales are a big struggle to me. Where did you find this partnerships?
Network. Go to the meetups.
Don’t rely on serendipity, we can do better than that. Use your programming skills.
Pull the meetup list, get all of their twitter profiles, search everyones last 1000 tweets for topics you are interested in. Pull all of their code on github. Push it through the profiler and find the talent.
Mirror github if you have to. Pull the whole darn thing, it’s only a couple of hundred gigs (if you dont pull the code) Profile everyone based on their stars, contributions, watchers and pull requests.
How many other meetups do they go to? What’s their history like on other forums?
Put the pics of these people on your phone, and then go and find them at the meetup. Pull their customer lists / testimonials and any other publicly available data.
Look at their company DNS records. Pull their company filings if they’re available. Know their revenue, know their customers. Who’s making the decisions at this company? Who is signing the cheques?
Scientia potentia est
dropshipping guitars on shopify
I run an ecommerce store from Shopify which fulfills the orders by drop-shipping through AliExpress.
This is definitely doable for one person, and it isn’t technically challenging for a software developer–but the hardest part (at least for me) is marketing, creating content, advertising, and so on.
Actually running a Shopify store and fulfilling by drop-shipping is simple. I would definitely recommend that as a good place to start, one person can do it.
There are a few good ways, but it really helps if you know the products well. For me, my site sells guitar parts and DIY kits. And I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 10 years old, so that helps a ton.
I had a few other stores before this that didn’t sell well at all, and I have to say that’s because I just didn’t know the products, or what the end users really wanted/needed/cared about.
Great ways to pick products: – Terapeak (http://www.terapeak.com/), but this is paid – eBay completed listings – Or most simple (and what I use) — once you know your products, search AliExpress and sort by “best-selling”. That’s my go-to.
Feel free to check my store for ideas (or if you want to buy something!). URL is: http://modshop.guitars/
I run Pinboard, $257K in gross revenue for 2016. A ton of money for one person, not quite enough for two people.
Do you have a writeup on your marketing?
My marketing is, I spend all my time talking smack on Twitter.
I run BugMuncher (https://www.bugmuncher.com), it started as a side-project 5 years ago, then in September 2015 I packed in freelancing to focus on BugMuncher full time.
As of November 2016 BugMuncher reached profitability – ie: it’s my sole source of income, and covers all of my living expenses.
I run https://www.fortsu.es (also https://www.fortsu.co.uk, https://www.fortsu.de and https://www.fortsu.com) a price comparison website for running shoes. Original one is focused on spanish market while expanding into interesting ones.
It started as side project some years ago when I wanted to buy running shoes online and it has been improved over the time. To-Do list never ends 😉
At the beginning it was basically word of mouth and niche related forums on the internet.
Then I started reading about SEO and advertising. Organic search more or less work but I got almost no traffic from a couple of banners on related pages during few months. I didn’t try advertising networks like AdWords.
I don’t see big brands as my competition. I have partnered with some but I don’t think they sell much on the internet (typically higher price tags) compared to full equipped city centre stores.
I started selling macOS (and now iOS) software on my own website back in 2007. https://clickontyler.com My original goal was to earn enough money to refinish the hardwood floors in my house. Since then, however, it’s taken on a life of its own and become a suite of three main products. It enables me to live comfortably in the Nashville suburbs.
1 man startup – http://reviewsignal.com/webhosting/compare I do web hosting reviews. Not the scummy pay-for-placement stuff you see, but an actual review site. It tracks what people are saying about hosting companies on Twitter and publishes the results.
The story is told a bit here http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/25/web-hosting-reviews-are-a-c… I was just tired after 10 years of still relying exclusively on my experience and the experiences of people I knew. Figured there must be a better way and I had been working with Twitter data for thesis and saw this opportunity.
I started selling online, total sales so far over $300k. Multiple sources, some retail, some wholesale.
What I’ve learned:
Not all rules matter. A large part of my business is stretching certain rules, either from the marketplace, or from the source (e.g. a store that doesn’t allow resale). That said, you can’t get away with breaking rules unless you have a very good understanding of why the rule exists, who’s motivated to uphold it, and generally what the risks are. Don’t screw over customers.
There’s a lot more to be made by taking risks than there is to be lost. I’ve easily lost over $1k multiple times in various ways, but when I “win” it’s to the tune of 10 or 30 times that. Take smart risks, only where the realistic upside justifies it.
Be willing to pay for information. There are courses out there in almost any topic. Personally I’ve largely carved my own path and paid very little , but I’d still recommend courses for others. Also read a lot of whatever free information is out there, and network with people who have more experience.
Don’t do too many things at once. It will kill you. I’ve been full time in college and it’s extremely tough to balance everything. Delegate as soon as you can afford to, anything others can do that doesn’t take a lot of brains pay people to do.
Don’t be afraid to scale, but do it slowly. My first purchase of over 10k was 6 months after I started, iirc.
(Several of these are probably specific to this kind of business, may not be generally applicable. Startups have a much different road where profitability isn’t the most important at first.)
selling open source software to government
I was working for Automattic after an acqui-hire thing. After a year there, I found that I missed working in security. I found a full-scope penetration testing gig three blocks from my apartment.
In my spare time, I started to tinker with a few ideas and released them as an open source project. Said project saw a lot of interest within the hacker community very quickly. I didn’t expect this. Folks formed an opinion on it pretty quickly. Some people hate it. Others love it. Of those who know it, very few are in-between.
I left my pen testing job with a decent amount of money saved up. I didn’t know exactly what I would go and do afterwards. I spent some time tinkering with Android, just for giggles.
I was very reluctant to start a business that used my “successful?” open source project. Partially because it leverages another open source project owned by another company.
I was at a conference in 2011 and someone from a US government agency asked if I was selling anything. I said no. He said that was too bad, because he had end of year money, and he liked my open source stuff. It was then that I decided to look at expanding my open source kit into a commercial product.
April will mark the two year anniversary of my first customer. My customers are well known organizations and they trust my software to assess how well they protect their networks. I’m constantly in awe of this.
https://www.improvely.com and https://www.w3counter.com
Five figures a month, just me, I’ve written about my solo business a couple times in other Ask HN threads. Ten years ago (almost to the day), in my college dorm, I was looking at the Webalizer web stats report my web host provided for my blog, and thought “I could do something much cooler than this”. So I did. I had built a few educational sites and threw some ads on them for a couple years before that, but W3Counter was the first service I actually charged a subscription for, and now I make a living building and selling this stuff.
vintage computer hardware
I don’t know exactly how you define “successful online business,” but I am currently a university student making $500 – $2000 a month at about 5 to 10 hours a week.
Basically, there is a market for vintage computer hardware, so I post some adds offering to take away old office items they can’t just throw away. Such as old keyboards, terminals, etc. and they pay me a nominal fee ($1 – $5 per item depending) to rid them of their “trash”. I then resell those items after cleaning them up a bit for extremely high profit margins $35 – $120 for 20 minutes of work (since I was payed to take away the trash).
One of the things I did was sold Model M keyboards which I made USB compatible: http://austingwalters.com/keyboards/
Another way I make money is by tutoring or helping out with programming, I use to help out local people, but I have since switched over to Google Helpouts. Usually, it’s just explaining some algorithms and writing some C code. Pretty easy, no real upkeep, and I can set what ever hours I want.
Just launched Pinegrow Web Designer (http://pinegrow.com) two months ago. The company is actually run by my wife and me, but I do all the work with Pinegrow while she is taking care of our other projects.
Pinegrow has been paying most of our bills since launch and I have a lot of expansions in the pipeline: full support for Foundation alongside Bootstrap, developer edition that’ll work with templates, a similar app for designing emails…
I run a small business called Cram Fighter (http://cramfighter.com) that is targeted at students (mostly medical) that are preparing for standardized exams. I got the idea after watching my wife preparing for her board exams and it seemed like a perfect little project to learn iOS programming. Initially my goal was to do earn maybe $5k annually, but now I’m on track to surpass my salary as senior developer by next year.
You’ll find a lot of one-person businesses targeting tiny, but profitable, niches like mine. What’s great about it is that often when you find a tiny opportunity, it opens up a lot of other problems that need solving that you would never find otherwise. It’s also a great way to learn the skills of running a business in a relatively stress-free way (at least compared to running a startup).
The only downside is if you’re anything like me, you’ll get antsy working on small projects and yearn to tackle bigger, more ambitious problems. Sometimes 1-person companies have the potential for turning into a company with startup-like growth, sometimes not. I’m still trying to figure out how far I can take my company.
I run http://officesnapshots.com which publishes photos of office design projects from around the world.
I started it in 2007 as a gin side project to teaching history. I’m no longer teaching and it is the majority of my income.
laptop battery meter
I sell a laptop battery meter (http://batterybarpro.com). It’s not income replacing; it makes about $1,000 per month, but it’s been crucial in saving enough for down payments one two houses.
I’ve tried to get the revenue numbers up, but I’ve never been able to break a $2,000 month.
http://www.robots-everywhere.com I used to employ two people, but I automated them away. I am successful in the sense that I have clear title to my home at age 33, if that counts.
excel version control
I run https://www.spreadgit.com, a hosted version control system for Excel. Doing this solo and full time. It’s been a hell of a ride so far but I love it.
write a book
I wrote a book that generates about $2k of revenue per month. Not quite your definition of success, but it’s given me a taste. I’m now in the beta testing process for my next thing.
I develop and sell Smart Shooter.
Its a traditional desktop app (windows, mac), but only sold online via our own website or the mac app store. I created it about 4 years ago, and work on it solely in my spare time. In fact I’m employed full time at a major tech company but this I keep separate.
To claim its profitable is a bit misleading, because of cause the major cost in developing such software is my own time. I’ve incorporated as a limited company here in Finland but do not pay myself a salary, so the only costs to the business are web hosting and occasional hardware purchases (computers, cameras).
I started this as a project for personal interest; at the time I was working as a software engineer developing financial trading software. Smart Shooter was a good way to develop something that covered both my interests in graphics programming and digital photography, to alleviate the borebom from my day job.
So for me its been successful, its still an pleasureable hobby, allows me an excuse to play around with the latest cameras, and brings in some pocket money. It doesn’t generate enough revenue that I could quit my main job, but the possibilities could be there if situations change.
I am running a complete payment gateway that supports VISA and MasterCard and mobile payments by SMS.
The name of the service is: https://www.bizify.me
For an introduction to the service: https://www.bizify.me/hacker-news/
I sell Asterisk reporting sw for win @samreports.com. It makes about $1000 a month in revenues. I also work as iOS developer for the man. I have a free iOS app on the AppStore (HRTecaj), soon to be commercial, when I add ATMs. I was Asterisk integrator, and learned a lot about the system, made software to present call reports in customisable and pleasant way. SAMReports has been selling, consistently, for 4 years. I made a few updates, but now I’m working on a major update.
I run http://lsathacks.com, and have a related book series
I sell e-books on my site and through affiliates, and sell print books on amazon. All told I make around $3,000 a month in passive revenues. I also make $4000-$5000 more in tutoring revenues.
However, the site is fairly new (I just sold the books through affiliates/print previously). As I grow the site I expect I may be able to get over $10,000 per month passive.
The LSAT is an admission exam for American and Canadian law schools. My materials/lessons teach people how to do better on it.
I own and operate http://www.radioreference.com and http://www.broadcastify.com. I do all the development, business management, and support.
I have a team of community volunteers that do a lot of day to day moderation and member management.
I got started simply building a set of community resources for the radio communications and hobbyist market.
We’re very profitable and these businesses provide the majority of my family’s income.
electricain calculator pro
I developed the Electrician Calculator Pro, a National Electrical Code compliant calculator for engineers, electricians, lighting designers, etc:
I first created the Android version about 3 years ago, then the iOS version about 1 year ago. It currently makes just enough to cover some bills, although I believe it has a greater potential. I’m currently looking for ways to make this a recurring revenue stream instead of a one time payment gig.
vlad studio – wallpapers
I’ve been running http://www.vladstudio.com (where I publish my wallpapers and other stuff) for several years, and for quite some time, it was my primary source of income. Unusual, because my premium accounts are not really a “product”, but just a way to “like” or “donate”.
Running a profitable SAAS has been my dream from the moment I wrote my first line of code.
Here on HN and IndieHackers I’ve always looked up to the people who pay their bills with recurring revenue from their tools.
I’ve tried, many times, to do the same, without much success. A couple of rather successful HN pitches, but none of my projects ever even paid me a beer (let alone my rent).
Until this month! Last year I built myself and my girlfriend a tool. Even though I did build it for other people to use it, I had never thought someone actually would. Long story short, half a year later I provide my service to more than 5000 (fully organic) users.
This month is the first month in which revenue is high enough to pay my rent with it. Disclaimer: I share my rent with my girlfriend, but it does sound cool to say.
Looking back at the proces, it does match with a lot of other success stories I read over the years in the HN community. The main lesson which I can now confirm: build something that scratches your own itch.
So… Thanks you guys, for keeping me motivated and inspired.
My only successful product to this date is an app I built because my wife asked me to. It is in an non-technical domain which I knew nothing about. I thought it was rather non-promising, but, since it was a pet-peeve of hers, I gave it a try.
It was an awesome (and very bonding) experience – she explained me the problem(s), and I tried to simplify and structure it (didn’t think gardening could be so complicated). Both of us were in their respective element, and from back and forth an app was forged.